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Italy: Organic sector shows impressive growth

by Karin Heinze (comments: 0)

Model shop of NaturaSi the biggest Italian organic supermarket chain. Foto Karin Heinze

Model shop of NaturaSi, the biggest Italian organic supermarket chain. Photo © Karin Heinze

Market data collected by Nielsen market research until May 2018, confirm a very positive trend in the Italian organic sector. The sales of organic food within large-scale retail exceeded the 1.5 bn euro mark for the first time. The numbers were presented at the annual shareholders´meeting of AssoBio, the Italian association of organic food processing and distribution companies. The whole domestic organic food and beverage market had reached a volume of 2.7 bn euros in 2016.

Large scale retail gains strength

After an exceptional three-year period that saw a surge in sales at annual rates of 18% to 19%, the organic sector has grown again. However, at a much lower rate of 10.5%. In general, the Italian food market has only grown 2.8%. In the organized large-scale distribution the number of organic references increased by 18%. Prices were slightly lower, reports Assobio. Large-scale retail trade is on its way upwards as sales exceeded the 1.5 bn euros for the first time. Supermarket sales gained a plus of 15.8%, those of hypermarkets 11.7%. "The market is no longer just that of over 1,200 specialized stores, the pioneers of the sector", Assobio states.

Coop Italy is one of the large scale retailer with a broad range of organic products. Photo Karin Heinze

Coop Italy is one of the Italian large scale retailers with a broad range of organic products. Photo © Karin Heinze

The organic sector is still growing and consolidates itself due to buying habits of Italian consumers. Reasons for the change of habits are a more sustainable lifestyle and health awareness. Better information about food and food production are increasingly influencing the shopping cart, directing consumers to conscious, selective and valuable food choices, analysed Assobio. "Italians are also increasingly aware that eating organic means eating safely", says the association. "Our companies come into play here: there are no no dyes, preservatives, sweeteners, flavor enhancers and so on in organic products", says Roberto Zanoni, president of AssoBio. "It would be nonetheless senseless to ruin a raw material of exceptional quality with unnecessary additives", he emphasises.

AssoBio declared that 2017 was a positive year for organic products: Sales increased by 16% compared to 2016, in contrast to a 4.1% increase in the food sector in general. Through the large-scale distribution channel, Italians purchased organic products worth 1.3 bn in 2017, 166 million euro more than in 2016, with an organic contribution to the growth of 12% in food consumption. In the organized large-scale distribution the number of organic articles increased by 18%.

Young people are sensitive on food quality, health and sustainability. The organic sector offers solutions. Photo Karin Heinze

Young people value food quality, health and sustainability. The organic sector offers solutions. © Karin Heinze

New organic consumers

According to last year's data from Assobio and Nielsen, 1.3 mn families have become habitual consumers: Organic products now enter the shopping carts of 6.5 mn families (26% of the total) each week. Many have become new consumers: Now, 21.8 million families at least occasionally purchase organic products, making up to 88% of the total. A huge growth in consumer numbers is seen in the South with a plus of 19.7%. Anyhow, the penetration is still limited to 2.1% in the Southern part of the country, while in the North East of Italy, the food expenditure is at 4.4%, growing by 14.1%. In Central Italy, the expenditure is 3.6% high, with a growth of 14.9%, North-West expends 3.5% with an increase of 12.1%.

Best-selling products in large scale retail are: eggs, puffed cereals, fruit jams, vegetable substitutes for milk, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh milk, pasta, shelled dried fruit, whole yoghurt and biscuits. Sustainability and respect for the environment is cited as a reason for buying organic products by 29 Italian consumers out of 100, while 34 indicate the superior quality of organic products. The strongest driver, however, remains safety, cited by 76 out of 100 consumers, who decide buying organic due to considering it as safer for health, more trustworthy regarding certifications, or because of the advice by pediatricians.

20% growth of organic cultivated land

Last year, 64,818 Italian farms cultivated 1,796,363 hectares of organic cultivated land. This is a growth of around 20.3% (in hectares) within only one year, meaning that 14.5% of the total agricultural area are now cultivated organically. “The conversion to organic farming is a necessity”, says Roberto Zanoni, president of AssoBio. “After seventy years of recourse to synthetic chemical substances, we find ourselves with very little organic substance in the soils and with a worrying presence of pesticide residues in surface waters and in those of deep water. Italy, world famous for its food, is also the largest consumer of pesticides per unit area in Western Europe, with double values ​​compared to those of France and Germany. In addition to that, the serious problem of antibiotic-resistance: Bacteria that are dangerous to humans have become resistant to drugs essential for humans, following the massive and indiscriminate use of these substances in farms.”, he emphasises.


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